|As you can imagine, authors become very excited when their book is about to be published. As you might not imagine, they get equally excited about pre-publication sales – orders of the book before it’s available. These end up mattering a lot.
My new book, Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says about the End (Simon & Schuster) is coming out on March 21 and I would like as many of you to PRE-ORDER it as possible. To that end I am offering a major incentive. Anyone who purchases the book by midnight of March 20 can receive a 50% discount on any of my online courses – whether a single-lecture-with-Q&A or a full fledged eight-full-lectures-with-two-Q&As (from www.bartehrman.com/courses – see below).
Before explaining how the offer works, let me say something about the book. The Apocalypse of John is the most mysterious and widely misinterpreted book of the Bible. In Armageddon I explain what experts know about it and show why most understandings of it are simply wrong (including those of “experts” who use it to show what is soon to happen at the end of the world).
For me this was an extraordinarily interesting book to write, in part because I it allowed me to explain what to many is inexplicable (the symbols of Revelation) and in part because the misinterpretations have done a lot of (unnecessary) mischief, caused considerable harm, and affected our world in ways that most people would never imagine – affecting even those who have no interest at all in the book.
Here is how I describe the book in the Preface, given here in full! Or scroll down to the special offer:
Many early Christians opposed the book of Revelation and argued it should not be included in the New Testament. The author, they insisted, was not an apostle and the book presented unacceptable views of the future of earth and the people who will inherit it. In the end, of course, they lost the argument. Once the book was widely accepted as Scripture, the followers of Jesus had to figure out how to make sense of it.
Over the long course of Christian history, many readers of the Bible have opted simply not to delve into its mysteries. Even today, most find the book of Revelation bizarre and unapproachable. Those who do read it usually fall into two camps. Since the end of the nineteenth century, most evangelical Christians have taken the book as a blueprint for events soon to come. These readers are convinced that the book’s prophecies are now, at last, being fulfilled. God has begun to intervene in history through a series of foreordained disasters. At a final confrontation of the powers of good and evil, the Battle of Armageddon, Christ will appear from heaven to destroy his enemies. But true believers in Jesus will survive and thrive in a glorious utopia—a city of gold with gates of pearl, from which they will rule the world for all time.
On the other side of the interpretive spectrum, liberal Christian scholars argue the book does not provide a literal description of divinely ordained catastrophes. It is instead a metaphorical narrative meant to provide a message of hope for those who suffer now, much as Christ himself suffered when he was among us. In this view, Revelation seeks to show that while evil is pervasive and misery rampant, the Ruler of all will eventually make right everything that is wrong. The book does not describe the imminent end of history as we know it; it celebrates God as the ultimate source of hope for all who follow him.
I have held both these views at different times in my life, and I now think they are both wrong.
I began my study of Revelation as a teenager in the mid-1970s. As a committed evangelical Christian, I considered every word of the Bible inspired and true, and I heartily embraced a literal reading of the prophecies of Revelation, convinced they showed beyond any doubt that Jesus was soon to return from heaven, and then there would be hell to pay, at least for those who, unlike me, were not true believers.
After some years, as I engaged in a more rigorous study of the Bible, I came to see the difficulties with this view and began to explore the book of Revelation from a more historical perspective. I realized why it was important to understand the work in its own context in relation to other ancient Jewish and Christian books collectively called “apocalypses.” These are endlessly fascinating works that narrate visions of things to come in order to show how the awful realities of earth can be explained by the truths of heaven, with the goal of providing comfort.
This is how I taught the book when I began my university career, as a graphic but nonliteral proclamation of hope for those who are suffering. All will be well in the end. Good will triumph. God will prevail. And he will “wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4). I eventually had to abandon this understanding of the book. It was difficult for me to do so, just as earlier in life it had been hard to give up on the idea that Revelation was predicting our future. In this book, I show why I think both views are flawed.
In the first part, I explain how a “futuristic” understanding of the book as a blueprint for what is yet to come evolved and why this reading is almost certainly wrong—even though it continues to be the view of evangelical Christians and of American culture at large.
In the second part, I show why I also don’t think Revelation provides a comforting message for the vast majority of those who suffer in this life. The overwhelming emphasis of Revelation is not about hope but about the wrath and vengeance of God against those who have incurred his displeasure. For the author of Revelation, that entails the vast majority of those who have ever lived, including, perhaps surprisingly, a number of committed Christians. The largest section of Revelation describes God inflicting horrible suffering on the planet: war, starvation, disease, drought, earthquake, torture, and death. The catastrophes end with the Battle of Armageddon, where Christ destroys all the armies of earth and calls on the scavengers of the sky to gorge themselves on their flesh. This is the climax of the history of earth.
But it is not the end of all things. After the slaughter there will be a final judgment, when God’s faithful followers, his “slaves,” will be saved; everyone else who has ever lived will be brought back to life and then thrown, while still alive, into a lake of burning sulfur. Afterward, God will reward his obedient slaves by giving them a glorious new city of gold with gates of pearl.
That is indeed a happy ending for some, but not because God loves them deeply—at least the book never says so. The saved are God’s minions who do what he demands. The love of God—for anyone or anything—is never mentioned in the book of Revelation, not once.
At the end of this book, I consider why Revelation was nearly excluded from the New Testament and ponder whether the ancient Christian opponents of the book may in fact have had some valid insights. In particular, I compare the views of its author, John of Patmos, with the teachings of Jesus. John certainly considered himself a follower of Jesus—a particularly ardent follower. But are his views actually consistent with those of his Lord? Would Jesus have accepted John’s celebration of violence, quest for vengeance, passion for glory, and hope for world domination? Did he not instead urge his followers to pursue love, non-retaliation, poverty, and service?
Different readers, of course, will answer these questions differently. I would simply urge anyone who wants to pursue them to read, or reread, Revelation to see what it actually says. That is what I have tried to do here.
My book is not, however, meant simply to provide a better interpretation of the Apocalypse of John. I also explain how a literal reading has created disastrous problems, including personal and psychological damage of myriads around us: family members, friends, and neighbors. But there is more than that. The expectation—or, rather, hope—for imminent Armageddon has affected our world in ways you might not expect, involving carnage, US foreign policy, and the welfare of our planet.
There could scarcely be a better time to reflect on such matters. We live in apocalyptic times of massive starvation, population shifts, plague, global superpowers waging war, and, possibly most frightening of all, a burning planet. Parts of our Western cultural heritage that are driven by traditional apocalyptic thinking have encouraged fatalism and inaction in the face of our crises. We would do well, then, to reflect on the historical roots of these views.”
Here are comments my publisher has decided to include about my work on the back cover:
“A humane, thoughtful and intelligent historian….The great appeal of Ehrman’s approach to Christian history had always been his steadfast humanizing impulse.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“One of my absolute favorite Biblical scholars, [Ehrman] stimulates the mind and charges the spirit.”
–Michael Eric Dyson, New York Times bestselling author of Tears We Cannot Stop
“Bart Ehrman has made a career or zeroing in on some of the most difficult questions at the intersection of faith and history.”
–The Boston Globe
“Ehrman’s style is marked by the narrative thrust of a good story or even a sermon.”
–The Christian Science Monitor
“There’s no one I’d rather read on what Christians believe, or why they believe it, than Bart Ehrman.”
–Tom Bissell, award-winning author of Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of The Twelve
And now the SPECIAL OFFER for you if you purchase the book BEFORE its publication. Buy the book any time before midnight PST on March 20 and receive 50% off the list price of any of my courses. Here are your options (with the list prices).
TO TAKE ADVANTAGE of the offer, simply purchase the book online from any outlet (for example, here: https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1982147997?tag=simonsayscom); then email the receipt to this address before March 21: [email protected]
By return email you will get a special code that will enable you to purchase the course.
I hope you can take advantage of this offer. And I hope you enjoy the book. Here are your options.
Did Jesus Think He Was God? ($14.95)
Soon after Jesus’ death, his disciples claimed that he was God. What did they mean by that? Was he the One and Only God, Yahweh? Did he himself think so?
Did the Resurrection of Jesus really Happen? ($49.95)
Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen? Enjoy this lively debate between Dr. Bart D. Ehrman and leading Christian apologist, Dr. Mike Licona.
Did the Christmas Story Really Happen? ($49.95)
What Can We Actually Know About the Birth of Jesus? A Historian’s Answer
In the Beginning – History, Legend, and Myth in Genesis ($39.95)
In Part One of Bart’s new “How Scholars Read the Bible” Series, dive into the stories of the first book of the Bible from a historical perspective.
Finding Moses -What Scholars Know About the Exodus ($53.95)
Did the Exodus actually happen and was Moses a historical figure or religious myth? What does the archaeological and other evidence say?
The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John ($53.95)
A closer look at the Gospels from a scholarly perspective. How do we know when the Gospels were written? Why do scholars think Matthew and Luke copied Mark?
Other Virgin Births in Antiquity ($14.95)
Was Jesus of Nazareth the ONLY miracle-working Son of God to be born of a Virgin?
The Unknown Jesus – Revealing the Secrets of Mark’s Misunderstood Gospel ($59.95)
Mark is at the same time the most brilliant AND most underrated Gospel of the New Testament. But, did Mark have first-hand knowledge of Jesus’ life or was he just makin’ stuff up? Explore the answer to this and other controversial questions in this new course.